This study investigates the extent to which high-quality news is rewarded on social media. We draw on the notion of social media logic and normative logic to explain the contemporary news environment and resulting outcomes. Social media logic (van Dijck & Poell, 2013; Klinger & Svensson, 2015) refers to a process that guides the actions and strategies of actors based on how social media platforms increase online traffic. On the other hand, normative logic emphasizes news’ commitment to truth and public accountability (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2021). The normative logic directly relates to news quality that matters to the public.
To empirically investigate the relative importance of normative values and social media values of news in news engagement, we measured the normative values (i.e., accuracy and public importance) and social media value (i.e., perceived popularity) of news articles (n=571) through surveys by collecting responses from both members of the public (n=5,816) and journalists (n=742)- two important groups of actors in news production and distribution.
Then, we compared the association of these values with actual engagement rates for each story on Facebook. We extracted three engagement metrics for each news article on Facebook through CrowdTangle: the number of shares, likes, and comments. Rather than forming a composite score based on the engagement metrics, we used each metric as the outcome variable in separate models.
We found that social media logic dominates news sharing and engagement on Facebook. Specifically, we found that social media value—measured by the perceived popularity of news among our survey takers—was the strongest predictor of major engagement metrics, whether it be the number of shares, likes, or comments. The results showed that public importance did not predict news engagement. Moreover, accuracy was negatively associated with some engagement metrics (i.e., shares). Consistently, when we directly compared normative and social media news values, the impact of social media values outweighed those of normative values. These findings indicate a tradeoff between normative and social media values such that journalistically high-quality news is not marketable in a social media environment.
These findings altogether suggest that social media logic can pose a threat to the democratic functions of news by potentially intruding on the normative logic of news. This calls for a discussion that may involve some interventions for preserving news in the social media age.
Van Dijck, J., & Poell, T. (2013). Understanding social media logic. Media and Communication, 1(1), 2-14.
Klinger, U., & Svensson, J. (2015). The emergence of network media logic in political communication: A theoretical approach. New Media & Society, 17(8), 1241-1257.
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2021). The elements of journalism (revised and updated 4th edition): What newspeople should know and the public should expect. Crown.